Twenty-five “Minnesotans for Peace” recently traveled to Washington to deliver a message to our elected representatives before the president’s “State of the Union.” We were able to read the names of the 77 young people from Minnesota who have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in front of the White House. And some in our group were arrested after they simply lay down on the sidewalk symbolizing the enormous tragedy of the millions of civilian and soldier lives that have been lost in the ongoing wars.
Ultimately President Obama gave a great speech emphasizing his wonderful vision for the future of our country through new job creation, improving educational opportunity, investment in America’s infrastructure and his hope for a return to economic prosperity. The president only spoke of the costly wars he has chosen to escalate toward the end of his “State of the Union” report. But does not the tail wag the dog?
It does not appear to us that the lives lost and trillions of dollars that have been poured into these counterproductive wars over the last eight years (and counting) have won any hearts or minds in the Mideast, nor have they succeeded in reducing the threat of international terrorism. So we asked a lot of questions.
No benchmarks articulated
Our peace delegation was able to meet on Capitol Hill with many of our representatives and/or their staffs, (Klobuchar, Franken, Kline, Oberstar and Ellison). However none of those we met with was able to explain how it is possible to “win” or even what future benchmarks Congress could use to evaluate whether progress is being made toward that goal. The last time our government published any information quantifying international terrorism was in 2004 (less than three years into the wars) and, at that time, the level had increased exponentially. The State Department’s annual terrorism report was immediately discontinued. Over eight years after the Bush administration instituted its “war on terror,” the government must still want to keep the bad news secret, even from Congress.
If there is no way to even find out this basic information, how can Congress assess if the Af-Pak escalation is “working”? We were met with blank stares.
We then asked whether changes in the level of American casualties could be used to measure the progress. We mentioned that Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey made a dire prediction: “What I want to do is signal that this thing (Af-Pak escalation) is going to be $5 billion to $10 billion a month and 300 to 500 killed and wounded a month by next summer. That’s what we probably should expect. And that’s light casualties.” One young congressional staffer who has studied foreign policy and military affairs (but without any military experience of his own) told us that increased American deaths would not be relevant or helpful in determining the war’s effectiveness.
What about the debt?
The last difficult question we posed to our elected Minnesota representatives was how can the reckless spending be brought under control and the national debt reduced when an unprecedented $740 billion is to be spent on the military and wars this next year? A staffer told us that Congress raised the debt ceiling last month to an unfathomable $12 trillion! That debt figure is more than double the $5.6 trillion the Bush administration had when it started the wars. The national debt comes to $100,000 for each American family! How can fiscal conservatives not question the trillions being wasted this way? How can President Obama’s hopes for economic prosperity be realized with a debt burden this high? Why are U.S. military contractors allowed to gain huge war profits at the same time as saddling our children and grandchildren with crushing interest payments on this debt?
Our group had to leave Washington without the answers. But we do not intend to wait in silence for them to respond. Since our current president and Congress do not appear capable of pulling the country out of the “war on terror” begun by the Bush administration, it will, of necessity, fall to the American people to exercise their constitutional rights and their consciences to pull us out of the bloody quagmire we find ourselves in.
Coleen Rowley, who retired in 2004 from a 24-year FBI career, is a frequent speaker on issues relating to ethical decision-making and the need to balance national security and civil liberties. In 2002 she brought to light several pre-9/11 intelligence lapses. In 2006 she made an unsuccessful bid for Congress, challenging Rep. John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District.